Aaliyah Bilal has won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence, given annually to a work of fiction by an African American author, for her debut story collection, Temple Folk.

Bilal’s collection, published last July by Simon & Schuster, focuses on the lives of Black Muslims in the United States. A critic for Kirkus praised the book, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, as “a beautifully thorough, well-balanced collection.”

In a statement, Bilal said, “It is an honor to have my first effort, Temple Folk, chosen for the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. I am especially proud to be associated through this award with the legacy of Mr. Gaines, as his oeuvre informs my ambition to tell timeless stories in plain spoken, elegant prose. Mr. Gaines teaches us how to do this sacred work with grace, grit, and love.”

The $15,000 Ernest J. Gaines Award is administered by the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, a Louisiana community organization, and named after the late author of books including A Lesson Before Dying, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The prize was first awarded in 2007. Previous winners include Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, Jamel Brinkley’s A Lucky Man, and Gabriel Bump’s Everywhere You Don’t Belong.

Michael Schaub is a contributing writer.